Al-Afghānī and Namık Kemal’s Replies to Ernest Renan

July 20, 2017 | Author: respublica78 | Category: Islamism, Muslim World, Imperialism, Ottoman Empire, Western World
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Al-Afghānī and Namık Kemal’s Replies to Ernest Renan. A good article....


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Al-Afghānī and Namık Kemal’s Replies to Ernest Renan: Two Anti-Westernist Works in the Formative Stage of Islamist hought1 Michelangelo Guida Fatih University, [email protected]

Abstract In the nineteenth-century, intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire were deeply inluenced by Western political thought and technology. hat said, the West represented not only a military threat, but also a cultural menace for Ottoman intellectuals. Imperialism was indeed advancing in Muslim lands, carrying with it and legitimizing itself by a strong belief in its civilization’s supremacy. Ottoman plans to acquire military technology and reform its administration proved insuicient in countering Western claims of genetic and cultural superiority. his European attitude generated anti-Westernist reactions in the Ottoman Empire as well as in many other non-European societies, such as that in Japan. In the Muslim world, however, anti-Westernist reactions and attempts to rewrite a glorious Muslim history were at the base of Islamist thought. his paper intends to analyze the responses of two notable early Islamist writers of the Ottoman Empire to a cultural aggression directed against Islamic civilization by the French Orientalist Ernest Renan. Namık Kemal’s ‘Renan Müdafaanamesi’ and Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī’s ‘Réponse à Renan’ and ‘al-Islām wa al-‘Ilm’ are particularly interesting because they give an insight into their perceptions of Imperialism’s cultural menace to Islam and their attempts to give a new rational image of religion. Fear of European cultural/military threats and a rational image of Islam were the irst component of the ideology that, later, would constitute the backbones of Muslim political ideas in the twentiethcentury and of Islamism.

Keywords Namık Kemal, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Islamism, Renan.

1 An early draft of this paper was presented at the 5th International Conference of the Asiatic Philosophical Association in Fukuoka, Japan, on 7 December 2011. I would like to thank Fatih University Research fund (project P51151002), which partially financed this research.


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lamist thought.

After 9/11, a wide ield of literature emerged out of the necessity to explain the reasons behind ‘Muslim resentment’ against the democratic and aluent West.1 However, this literature fails to provide adequate explanations because its writers do not understand the huge impact of Western Imperialism and all the forms it assumed in the twentieth and twenty-irst centuries on non-Western political intellectuals. Marc Ferro’s Resentment in history and Le choc de l’Islam, though, helps us in relecting on the impact of Western policies through history and the reactions that they created in nonEuropean societies. Anti-Westernism, indeed, is not something peculiar to Muslim societies. In nearly the same years of the emergence of Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, from the Meiji period to World War II, Japan saw similar intellectual currents that adopted very similar symbols and methodologies against the West (See Aydın 2007). Obviously, it must be considered a fact that there were special diiculties in the long encounter between Islam and Christendom, which were not present in the encounter between Europe and the geographically remoter civilizations of Asia (Lewis 2002, 36-7).

Before proceeding any further it may be appropriate to deine the term ‘Islamism’, used in the title and in the text. his term is widely used, but because it is semantically imperfect, it lacks an unequivocal meaning in the literature. By ‘Islamism’ we intend a political ideology (not a religious or theological construct) that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth-century Muslim world and continuously evolved until present times in diferent geographical and social contexts. Islamist intellectuals advocate the islamization of all aspects of life and promote a reinterpretation of Islam itself—which was allegedly misinterpreted by previous generations. his ideology appeared as a reaction to the arrival of Imperialism in Muslim lands. In the second half of the nineteenth-century, the West not only started to represent a military threat menacing territory, identity, and political institutions; the West was threatened the Muslim identity and religion with its materialism and scientism, and it threatened Muslim societies with the imposition of its dominant ethnicity, ‘far from creating a peaceful world order guided by ascetic and all-inclusive human rationalism’ (Moallem 2003, 200). Moreover, imperialism demonstrated the economic, technological, and military inability to confront the West and the inadequacy of the political and cultural institutions of the Muslim world. Finally, imperialism encouraged the emergence of Westernized elites that upheld the ‘civilizing mission’ among Muslim societies. In Turkey as in other Middle Eastern countries, Westernized elites—perceived as alien to the local social fabric—gained power and imposed authoritarian regimes that marginalized those deviating from the project of Westernization and modernization, triggering even more resentment. hus, even if the Ottoman Empire and Turkey did not know

In this paper, I will argue that it was antiWesternism as a reaction to the evolution of Imperialism and the onset of Western domination in the Middle East and North Africa that sparked the emergence of Islamism. Moreover, I will argue that al-Afghānī and Namık Kemal were the two leading igures to launch this ideology into the core of the Ottoman Empire and that their answers to Renan are actually the starting point of Is-

he most notorious one is Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response and he Roots of Muslim Rage (he Atlantic, September 1990), which was published well before 9/11 though.



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direct foreign rule, the presence of Westernized elites as well as the continuous threat (real or perceived) of foreign occupation, Cold War, neo-imperialism, the state of Israel, and the unequal international division of labour, maintained the necessary stress that fed Islamism to the present. However, it is far from the case that Islamism is an anti-modern movement or simply a kind of ‘protectionist countermovement’ of Polanyi. he emergence of Islamism was possible only because of a new education system and the spread of new media, which were useful in propagating its ideas: at irst journals, then cassettes, satellite TV, and the internet. Islamists’ dream of a return to pristine Islam (the Asr-ı Saadet, the ‘happy era’ when the Prophet and his followers were alive or to a glorious era of Muslim history such as the Ayyubid or Ottoman eras) is a modern reinterpretation of the past—very frequently idealized and not linked to historical evidences. he return to the past was needed for the building of a methodology necessary for the shaping of a new Islamic identity which would it in the contemporary world. here is not even an ‘Occidentalism’ imprinted in the Islamist DNA; Indeed, the West remains one of the main sources of Islamist thought, yet since its inception, there is a genuine ight against political and economic Western discriminating hegemony.

‘Mussulmans are hemselves the First Victims of Islam’2 he French Orientalist Joseph Ernest 2 Renan [1883] 2000, 215. All English translations of Ernest Renan’s conference L’Islamisme et la Science are taken from Renan, E. 1896. he Poetry of the Celtic Races and Other Studies, 84-108, London: Water Scott reproduced in Orientalism: Early Sources; Readings in Orientalism, edited by Bryan Turner, 199-217, LondonNew York: Routledge, 199-217.

Renan (1823-1892) spent most of his academic career attempting to show how positive science was in conlict with religion, particularly with Roman Catholicism. Renan thought that science would eventually supplant religion in developed societies and he understood religion as an enquiry that exhibits a comparative, sceptical, and nonjudgmental attitude toward its subject. During a trip to Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece in 1864, he composed Prière sur l’Acropole, which expressed what he called his religious revelation that the perfection promised by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam actually existed in the Greek civilization that created art, science, and philosophy. However, ‘Renan’s historical sense was not always the best, and he clearly preferred to draw his conclusions from what he thought were psychological patterns of the races and religions he studied’ (Resh 1987, 334). An evidence is the letter of the qādī of Mosul to Sir Henry Layard used in Renan’s conference as evidence of ‘lack of the scientiic spirit, superstition and dogmatism’ (Renan [1883] 2000, 211) among Muslim religious authorities. Namık Kemal already doubted its genuineness (Namık Kemal 1962, 61). Massignon deined it as a work edited by Renan himself with ‘un humour si délicieusement sarcastique’ (Massignon 1927, 301). Al-Afghānī did not spend many words to confute the weak historical knowledge of the French author whereas Namık Kemal went through a lengthy critique of the episodes mentioned by Renan, yet missing the real challenge posed by the lecture, as we will see. Edward Said even indicated Renan as a model of how the private man interferes with the scholar: ‘their [Renan and Louis Massignon’s] personal, in some instances their intimate problems, concerns, and predilections are very much a part of their public work and position as Orientalists’. Moreover, ‘they grasp Islam, they also lose it’ (Said 1980,


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60). Namely their personal approach and their beliefs did not allow them to really understand the complexity of Islam. However, his provocative prose helped him in becoming professor of history of religions at the Collège de France twice: in 1862, but he was soon suspended after a lecture on the life of Christ where he doubted Jesus’ divinity, and again in 1879. In 1878, he was elected to the Académie Française where he delivered his famous lecture L’Islamisme et la Science, which sparked so many reactions in the Muslim world. In his lecture delivered on 29 March 1883,3 organized by L’Association scientiique de France in the grand amphitheatre of Sorbonne University, Renan applied to Islam all his main ideas on religion. Initially, he recalled the prejudice common to that period: All those who have been in the East, or in Africa, are struck by the way in which the mind of a true believer is fatally limited, by the species of iron circle that surrounds his head, rendering it absolutely closed to knowledge, incapable of either learning anything, or of being open to any new idea (Renan [1883] 2000, 200). hen, to a period from about the year 775 to nearly the middle of the thirteenth-century of progress and splendour it followed a long and steady decadence of the Muslim world, the French Orientalist remembered. ‘It might almost be said that, during this period, the Mohammedan world was superior in intellectual culture to the Christian world’ (Renan [1883] 2000, 201). However, he conference was delivered on hursday 29 March 1883 and published on page two and three of the following day’s morning edition of the Journal des débats politiques et littéraires available on the website of Bibliothèque nationale de France: ark:/12148/btp6k4621949 (retrieved 19/07/2011).



much of their science was produced by the Nestorian Christians that lived in the Sassanid lands newly conquered by the Arabs. he Nestorians and the Iranian elements (the Indo-European elements) soon surrounded caliphs and became chief physicians. Parsis and Christians took the leading part; the administration, the police in particular, was in the hands of the latter. All those caliphs, the contemporaries of our Carlovingian monarchs, Mansour, Haroun al-Raschid, Mamoun, can scarcely be called Mussulmans (id., 203) Because they were in internal revolt against their own religion, curious, and continuously questioning Indian, Persian and, above all, Greek authors. Moreover, the great intellectuals’ use of Arabic as a medium of communication does not make them Arabic or Muslim intellectuals; the same thing can also be said of the many European intellectuals that wrote in Latin (id., 206). he stress on language is relevant because Renan, as a dedicated philologist, believed that language determines the spirit of its people. Indo-European languages manifest a capability to change and diferentiate during the centuries whereas Semitic languages remain ixed and immutable. From here derives an intellectual—not racial—superiority of the Aryans (Renan 2005, 11). Renan had in some way imposed on the university circles the pro-Aryan thesis of Arthur de Gobineau of the ineptitude of the Semites in arts and sciences. Starting from about 1275, the Muslim world plunged into ‘the most pitiable intellectual decadence’ whereas Western Europe entered ‘that great highway of the scientiic search for truth’ (Renan [1883] 2000, 206). Islamism continued to persecute science and philosophy thanks to the advent of ‘Tartar’

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and ‘Berber’ races, which ‘are heavy, brutal, and without intelligence’ (id., 208). As in the West, when religion dominates civil life, there is no liberty and no curiosity. And indeed ‘Western theology has not persecuted less than that of Islam; only it has not been successful, it has not crushed out the modern spirit, as Islamism has trodden out the spirit of the lands it has conquered’ (id., 209). In the West, reason managed to limit the inluence of Christian theology and to create military and industrial superiority. In Muslim lands, though, Islam slew science and became condemned in the world to a complete inferiority. his lecture sparked in the Muslim world a series of refutations, the most notable of which is the one of Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī irst published in Arabic and in French a few days after the publication of the text of Renan’s lecture. Al-Afghānī also received a reply from Renan from the pages of the Journal des Débats the following day (on 19 May 1883).4 he Ottoman intellectual Namık Kemal also prepared a refusal of Renan’s lecture but it was published only posthumously in 1908. Ernest Renan’s reputation as a prominent secular European intellectual, though, cannot alone explain the Muslim response to his ideas. Muslims took these arguments seriously because Renan’s thesis about the history of Islamic science was seen as a symbol of a larger European justiication for Europe’s racial superiority over Semitic and Turkic Muslims as a way to justify its imperialistic civilizing mission in the Muslim world. Moreover, What made Renan’s ideas diferent from the frequent anti-Muslim writings in the European media was their precise 4 he English translation of the reply is also reproduced in Orientalism: Early Sources; Readings in Orientalism, edited by Bryan Turner, 199-217, LondonNew York: Routledge.

attack on the historical consciousness of optimistic Muslim modernists, who saw their own history as part of the history of European civilization and progress (Aydın 2007, 48). Muslim reformists believed that if Muslims had once achieved a golden age in science and technology, there was no reason why they could not reach a similar achievement in scientiic progress after the process of modernization. he Tanzimat reformers, for instance, believed in the capacity of nonEuropean societies to attain the same progress of European civilization. Namık Kemal belonged to the Young Ottomans that strongly criticized the Tanzimat reformers for their naive interpretation of modernity. On his side, al-Afghānī was a strong critic of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), Indian modernist and founder of the Aligarh Muslim College. Furthermore, Renan’s lecture came after three major events that strongly inluenced the Muslim intellectual approach to Europe: the Treaty of Berlin and the occupations of Tunis and Egypt. he Treaty of Berlin (13 July 1878) greatly reduced Ottoman domains in the Balkans, thanks to Western powers’ inluence. he occupation of Tunis by France in 1881 and of Egypt by England in 1882, marked a radical change in the Imperialist policies of these two countries and brought them closer to the core of the Muslim world and the seat of the Caliphate’s foreign domination. Occupation followed the already existent control of Egyptian and Ottoman state inances by foreigners. Renan, then, ofered an alternative historical explanation for the past achievements in science and progress in Muslim societies between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, arguing that it was due to either Aryans or Christian Arabs, as stated above.


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he Semitic and Turkic elements were incapable of recognizing the relevance of the natural sciences and philosophy. his implicitly meant that Muslims needed colonial tutelage to overcome their backwardness, and any attempt to modernize their societies was destined to fail.

the lesson was on how oxygen is necessary for life; they also made the experiment of depriving a bird from air. Many among the public found the words of the two intellectuals ofending to Islamic religious values and complaints forced authorities to act (Akün, 1998).

We will now concentrate on three distinguished replies to Renan’s arguments.

From 1871 to 1879, al-Afghānī lived in Cairo supported by the statesman Riyād Pasha. Here he was involved in teaching and in promoting political newspapers. He soon became the guide and unoicial teacher of a group of young men who were to play an important part in Egyptian life: among others, Muhammad ‘Abduh and Sa‘d Zaghlūl. He taught them, mainly in his home, what he conceived to be the true Islam: theology, jurisprudence, mysticism, and philosophy. But he taught them also the danger of European intervention, the need for national unity to resist it, the need for a broader unity of the Ummah, and the need for a constitution to limit the ruler’s power (Hourani 1983, 109).

Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī Born in Asadabad in northwest Iran in 1838/9,5 Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī received higher education in the Shiite shrines of Ottoman Iraq in the 1850s. Here he was probably inluenced by rationalist Muslim philosophers. He then travelled to India and he was probably there during the 1857 mutiny. In India, he developed his hatred toward British colonialism and foreign occupation. He moved to Afghanistan but, in 1868, he was expelled and he directed himself toward Istanbul. His intelligence and personality quickly brought him into the Tanzimatçı circles. On 20 February 1870, al-Afghānī participated in the opening of the Dâr al-Fünûn directed by Hoca Tahsin, an Albanian member of the ‘ilmiyye educated in Paris and passionate about the natural sciences. Hoca Tahsin had already attracted the resentment of the conservatives among the ‘ilmiyye. During the month of Ramadan (December) of the same year, they held lectures open to the public which abruptly interrupted Hoca Tahsin’s career and al-Afghānī irst sojourn in Istanbul. Apparently the second night of Ramadan 5 Jamāl al-Dīn later pretended to be of Afghan origin, from that the name al-Afghānī, from a village three day walk from Kabul probably to conceal his Shiite background. his version was reported by the oficial biographies of ‘Abduh and Makhzūmī (Mahzumî Paşa 2010, 3-4) but the Iranian origin was proved by Keddie (1972).


In 1879, because of his anti-British propaganda he was expelled again and took refuge in the Indian state of Hyderabad. Between 1883 and 1885 he was in Paris where he started the publication of the Arabic newspaper al-‘Urwah al-wuthqà with his Egyptian pupil Muhammad ‘Abduh. He kept travelling, to Iran and then Russia, until he was invited to Istanbul in 1892 by Sultan Abdülhamid II, who insisted on seeing al-Afghānī in the Ottoman capital because of the letter that he wrote to the Sultan from London. It suggested some subtle diplomatic ways to achieve the goal of PanIslamism by bringing about, at irst, an alliance of the Ottoman state with Afghanistan and, then, with Iran realizing a Shii-Sunni unity (Özcan 1995, 286). However, his actions were limited very soon by an increasing suspicion of him by Ottoman authorities;

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his relations with Abbas Hilmi, the Khedive of Egypt and with members of the opposition were found to be intolerable. In 1896, al-Afghānī was held responsible by the Iranian authorities for the murder of Shah Nasr al-Dīn, but Ottoman authorities refused to hand him over but put him under house arrest. In 1897, al-Afghānī died of cancer and was buried in the Maçka cemetery. Ernest Renan had the chance to meet al-Afghānī in February or April of 1883, introduced by Khalīl Ghānim (Halil Ganem) (Renan [1883] 2000, 213). Khalīl Ghānim was a Maronite activist elected as deputy for Beirut in the short-lived Ottoman Parliament. In Paris, he was a collaborator for the Journal des Débats and published an Arabic journal called al-Basīr, which promoted constitutionalism and Ottomanism and had been published with oicial support since April 1881 (Kedourie 1977, 40). Later Khalīl Ghānim became an activist for the Committee of Union and Progress (Hanioğlu 1996, 45-6 and Hourani 1983, 264-5). Renan had a very good impression of Jamāl al-Dīn alAfghānī and considered him ‘an Afghan [sic!], entirely emancipated from the prejudices of Islam; he belongs to those energetic races of the Upper Iran bordering upon India, in which the Aryan spirit still lourishes so strongly, under the supericial garb of oficial Islamism’ (Renan [1883] 2000, 213). Renan also appreciated al-Afghānī’s condemnation of fanaticism and the decline of the Muslim worlds, an opinion shared also by Khalīl Ghānim who saw the reason behind Ottoman decadence in religious fanaticism and despotism. Moreover, he stressed the authoritarian and exclusive character as well as the attitude toward political intolerance and violence of the Turks that emerged from the long ights with the Christians (Ganem 1902, II, 295-6). here is no doubt that Jamāl al-Dīn al-

Afghānī was fascinated with modern science or, rather, the ‘mechanistic’ side of it. He saw it as the secret of Western strength which Muslims had to acquire in order to ight back. In his view, science ruled the world and the European hegemony, thanks to its scientiic knowledge, was in keeping with a pattern where ancient civilizations were able to airm themselves over others by beings comparatively more technically advanced (Cortese 2000, 505). he most well-known response of alAfghānī to Renan was published on the pages of the Journal des débats on 18 May 1883 (al-Afghānī 1883c). According to Lewis Freeman Mott, the author of a biography of Renan published in 1921, the translation of al-Afghānī’s letter to the Journal des débats (published on 18 May 1883) from Arabic into French was done by Ernest Renan himself (Cündioğlu 1996, 29-31). Mohammad Hamidullah, the well-known Indian scholar, among others, believed that the article published in the Journal des débats was translated and forged by Renan . Hamidullah advocated that al-Afghānī did not know French and sent the Arabic text to the journal a few days after the lecture but was not capable of following the long publishing process. Moreover, his article was never published by the Arabic journal of his pupil ‘Abduh, who followed with care all of his master’s work (Hamidullah 1958, 5-7). Keddie, however, believes that, even if al-Afghānī’s written and spoken French was imperfect and he read the lecture in ‘a more or less faithful translation’6, the French text was genuine and accurate ‘since Afghānī soon came to read French quite well, and never made any recorded complaint about the way the “Answer” was translated’ (Keddie 1983, 86). 6 Quotations from the ‘Réponse à Renan’ are taken from the translation of Keddie published in An Islamic Response to Imperialism, pp. 181-187.


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Moreover, the Journal des débats was widely read among al-Afghānī’s close circles. ‘Abduh knew about the article and in a private correspondence with his master he irst expressed interest in translating it. Later, when a draft was ready, he dropped the idea of publishing it, waiting for al-Afghānī’s new elaboration in Arabic (Kedourie 1977, 44-5). Moreover, it appears that Renan’s Arabic was too poor for him to have translated such an article. he translator of al-Afghānī’s letter might have been Khalīl Ghānim, who published another answer to Renan speach in Arabic ifteen days earlier on the pages of his journal. As we will see, the Arabic text was very diferent in style and context, but probably written with completely diferent aims. he ‘Réponse du Cheik Gemmal Eddine’ printed on the Journal des débats was published in French and intended for a Western audience. As in other writings addressed to a French or British public, al-Afghānī could be almost the image of logic, clarity, and rationality, appealing to the liberal sentiments of his audience in a way that would be impossible for a man who did not have a fairly sympathetic acquaintance with modern Western ideas. When writing a book or articles intended for mass circulation in the Muslim world, he was less rational and strongly anti-Westernist, even more anti-British (Keddie 1983, 36). Moreover, in his writings addressed to the Muslim world, what he intended by ‘Islam’ was a desideratum—based on a modernist reinterpretation of religion forgetting tradition. Namık Kemal and all Islamists after him would keep on presenting an ideal image of ‘Islam’. In ‘Réponse’, ‘la religion musulmane’ has a negative connotation and what he intends by it is the corrupt, unscientiic contemporary Muslim societies (Keddie 1983, 39-40). A translation of the ‘Réponse’ would have created confusion among al-Afghānī and ‘Abduh’s readers. Later, other Islamist writers had the oppor-


tunity, when the ‘ilmiyye lost their grip even further, to openly blame the learned class for their backwardness and their incapability in promoting progress and knowledge throughout the centuries. Al-Afghānī, as Keddie believed, was accustomed to adapting his discourse to his audience and also avoiding certain arguments with the wider Muslim public inluenced by a ‘traditional mystic and philosophical background, which particularly stressed speaking diferently to the initiated, and to the masses’ (Keddie 1963, 27). Moreover, al-Afghānī also hid his Iranian and Shiite background to avoid Sunni blame or mistrust. Adjusting arguments and words to the context appears to be something quite normal for a public intellectual; he was also sponsored by diferent notables and probably in diferent occasions he refrained from making comments that might have been unwanted by his patron. However, in al-Afghānī’s approach, rather than intellectual unfairness, there is a good dose of elitism and paternalism, common to many Islamist writers before the difusion of public education and the mass media. his approach comes from authors like Ibn Rušd who believed in ‘people of diverse intelligence’ and diferent ‘natural capacities’, probably inherited from Greek philosophy. his is also an attitude of Shiite Islam and many mystical confraternities, to which alAfghānī was exposed. In the Journal des débats, al-Afghānī summarized Renan’s speech in two main points: Islam is opposed to the development of science and Arabs by nature do not love metaphysical sciences or philosophy. As for the irst point, al-Afghānī believed that, at its origin, no nation is capable of letting itself be guided by pure reason because it is incapable of rationally tracing back causes or to discerning efects. his is certainly a ‘humiliating yoke’ but it is the irst step toward a more advanced civilization. Islam is

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not diferent in this respect from other religions. However, if the Western world has advanced and emancipated itself from religion, Renan noticed, ‘Muslim society has not yet freed itself from the tutelage of religion’ (Keddie 1972, 183). Muslims, however, have undoubtedly a ‘taste for science’, as they demonstrated in the past. As for the second point, the one where Renan showed his belief in racial theories, al-Afghānī stated that Greek and Persian contribution to the development of Muslim sciences was immense. At the same time, though, ‘these sciences, which they usurped by right of conquest, they developed, extended, clariied, perfected, completed and coordinated with a perfect taste and rare precision and exactitude’ (p. 184-5). Europeans learned from the Arabs the philosophy of Aristotle, ‘who had emigrated and become Arab’ (p. 185). his proves the fact that Arabs have a natural attachment to philosophy even if they fall into ignorance and into religious fanaticism. However, al-Afghānī is very categorical when analysing the reasons of the later fall into darkness of Arab civilizations: Here the responsibility of the Muslim religion [la religion musulmane] appears complete. It is clear that wherever it become established, this religion tried to stile the sciences and it was marvellously served in its designs by despotism (p. 187). he irst reply to Renan from al-Afghānī, however, was published on the pages of Ghānim’s journal on 3 May 1883 and titled ‘al-Islām wa al-‘ilm’ (al-Afghānī 1883b). Intended for the Ottoman Arabic-speaking public, its theme and aims were political, and Renan’s lecture was criticized for its opportunism and not really for its content. After quoting the verse ‘So learn a lesson, O ye

who have eyes!’ (59, 2), inviting the reader to make a comparison, he called Renan’s speech disrespectful, but he noticed how illustrious Frenchmen strongly condemned his words. However, the rest of the article was a political statement quite far from the content of Renan’s speech. Al-Afghānī believed that Renan’s words were inappropriate for a country that ruled over such wide Muslim lands, mainly those of Algeria and Tunisia. Moreover France was a country that, in matters of justice and rights, was so diferent from Britain, which ruled over ifty-million Muslims in India. hen the author attacked disrespectful British rule in the Muslim world and its sponsorship for protestant missionary activities. He concluded: ‘So look, O ye who see [al-basīr], to the existing diferences among these two nations and do justice’. Al-Afghānī saw the British government as an enemy of the Muslims not only because of the direct military attack that he feared. He feared the British for their subtler ways of working; they had conquered India by a trick, insinuating themselves into the Mogul Empire under the pretext of helping the Moguls. hey sowed division and weakened the resistance of their victims by weakening their beliefs. It was thus that General Gordon had brought missionaries from Egypt to spread the idea of Protestant Christianity in Sudan, while in India the false gospel of ‘naturalism’ was encouraged (Hourani 1983, 113). It is interesting to note the distinction between French and British rule in Muslim lands made by al-Afghānī. Al-Afghānī experienced British colonial rule in India and Egypt and based on these experiences he formed an aversion toward Imperialism, starting to think about its deleterious effects on Muslim culture and identity. When he wrote his article on Ghānim’s al-Basīr, he was in Paris, writing for the


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pages of a journal that was inanced by the French government, initially to contrast Italian propaganda in Tunisia with the aim of letting ‘Arabs love France’. hen, after the occupation of Egypt, it assumed an antiBritish stand, in line with French foreign policy (Kedourie 1966, 40). hus, al-Afghānī wrote the piece perfectly aligning himself to the editorial policy. Paradoxically, the Western powers, Russia and Japan inanced and supported—granting asylum and recognition—to transnational movements which held and anti-Western and anti-Imperialist agenda until recent times (just remember the emergence of the Taliban and al-Qā‘ida). A similar attack on the British hostility toward Islam had already been expressed. In April of 1883, in another letter published in the Journal des débats, al-Afghānī warned Europeans that Muslim Indians were convinced that the British campaign in Egypt was only the irst step to the conquest of the Hijaz and Mecca, centres of Islam: ‘they unanimously say that the English already had put their hand on the cradle of Islam, and that they will make a great efort to erase this religion’. If that would ever have happened, the reaction of the Muslim population would have been devastating.

Namık Kemal Mehmet Namık Kemal is probably the founder of modern, Islamist political thought in the Turkish speaking area of the Ottoman Empire. Born in December 1840 to a family of bureaucrats, one year after the beginning of the Tanzimat reforms, he started a career, irst in the Translation Bureau of the Customs, and then in the Ottoman Porte (1861-7)—‘Turkey’s open window to the West’ (Lewis 1961, 137)–, which brought him into contact with Western culture, especially through the medium


of works in French. In 1865, Namık Kemal took over the editing of Şinasi Efendi’s Tasvir-i Efkar newspaper, where he started to advocate the introduction of constitutional and parliamentary institutions. In 1867, the government became uneasy with his criticism of its conduct of foreign afairs that urged a more forceful defence of Ottoman interests against the European powers. Soon, Namık Kemal was appointed as assistant governor of the province of Erzurum, a gentle way of getting rid of him. Instead of accepting the appointment, he left the country for Paris and then London with his friend Ziya Bey, where they began the publication of the newspaper Hürriyet with the inancial help of a member of the Egyptian royal family, Prince Mustafa Fazıl Paşa. Hürriyet was outspokenly critical of the Ottoman government for its lack of direction and its despotism. In 1870, Namık Kemal returned to Istanbul where he established a more moderate newspaper, İbret. Two years later he was appointed to an administrative post in Gallipoli in order to reduce his powerful opposition. After a short period back in the capital, he was again exiled to Cyprus (1876) and then to the isle of Mytilene in July 1877, this time purportedly for the disturbance created by his play Vatan yahut Silistre (he Fatherland or Silistre). In the play, written in a clear and simple Turkish able to address the common people, Namık Kemal tried to promote love and attachment for the Ottoman fatherland. he term that he used was the Arabic word watan, which has the original meaning of ‘home’, the place where somebody lives (Ibn Manzūr 1997, XV, 338). Namık Kemal’s innovation is his attempt to indicate with the word a place and not just an ideal community, like the more common words umma and milla. A simple translation of the French concept of patrie was very complicated, both because there was (and probably still there

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is) no general understanding of a nation that includes a community within a speciic region and because of the political and cultural circumstances in which the author lived. he play, in fact, is about the heroic defence of Silistre, a city strategically located on the Danube, today northern Bulgaria, with a small Muslim population surrounded by Bulgarian and Romanian speaking nonMuslims. Namık Kemal died in December 1888, again in exile on the isle of Chios. According to his son—Ali Ekrem (Bolayır)—the reason of death was pneumonia, strongly worsened by the protracted and unfair exile as well as the depression following the censure by the Porte of his Ottoman history book, published just a few months before his death (Ali Ekrem 1992, 111-113). In June of 1883 in his exile in Mytilene, Namık Kemal with profound emotions started to write his Renan Müdafaanamesi, a task which he considered—as he wrote in a letter to his father—a ‘great act of worship’. He intended to refute Renan’s lecture with evidences taken from European literature and from Renan’s own work (Tansel 1955, 89). However, in a letter written on 1 September he wrote that his ‘Renan Müdafaanamesi’— as he himself called his work—was completed, yet revisions were progressing slowly. Finally, in a letter on 4 November he admitted to be profoundly unsatisied with his work and that he did not intend to publish it (id., 89-90). His work was published by his son Ali Ekrem in 1908 and presented as ‘one of his greatest success’ (Ali Ekrem 1992, 56), probably unaware of the correspondence with his grandfather. In fact Renan Müdafaanamesi appears to the reader a weak refutation of Ernest Renan’s argument. Kemal’s speciic target was this

French thinker’s allegation that there existed no philosophy in the true sense of the word in Islam. Renan had relied on an argument similar to the one that has been advanced in this study, namely, that Islam had not been able to achieve so great a distinction in the ield of science as Europe because it did not have a major tradition of secular thought independent of theology. Namık Kemal’s defense, even though passionate, was quite weak, for he obviously was unable to understand his adversary’s position (Mardin 2000, 324). he Ottoman author gave, indeed, plenty of evidences that Renan did not have good knowledge of Islamic history, something that, as we have already seen, was also known to the French public. Besides a review of the historical evidences brought by Renan, the author of Renan Müdafaanamesi mentions the imperative of Islam to search and investigate, from verses like ‘My Lord! Increase me in knowledge’ (XX:114) and ‘Are those who know equal with those who know not?’ (XXXIX:9) or sayings of the Prophet like ‘Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave’. Namık Kemal then asks how it is possible that a religion with so strong a commitment to the search for knowledge then act as an obstacle to science. Namık Kemal failed to tackle the main point of Renan’s thesis, namely the accusation that Islamic societies have failed to develop as fast as those in Europe. We do not know the exact reasons behind the decision of Namık Kemal not to print his latest work, but one hypothesis is the fact that he himself realized the weakness of his argument. hus, while on the one hand Namık Kemal defended the thesis that nothing in Islam forbade the study of the exact sciences and mathematics, on the other he showed his own inclination in the matter by stat-


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ing that science was not merely ‘an instrument to gain control over nature and create wealth’. ‘It can never be known, of those who use science for practical goals, if they have been able to attain a higher status [ie. if they have evolved morally] or reached maturity’ (Namık Kemal 1962, 25 translated by Mardin 2000, 324). Namık Kemal makes here an anti-utilitarian and strongly moralistic-religious comment, which will become the frequent critique of European materialism. Again, Namık Kemal protested that Renan should have equated science with mathematics and the natural sciences only. If this method were to be adopted, he stated, he would agree that Islamic culture had thwarted the growth of science. He, however, did not recognize the fact that the Islamic scholastic approach to philosophy was quite barren and that the spirit of hair-splitting was no more part and parcel of European philosophy. Namık Kemal did not recognize that Ernest Renan attributed a great part of the progress that had been accomplished in Europe to the gradually widening limits of freedom of thought, and, in particular, to the rise of the political liberalism that had been associated with two parallel movements: the emancipation of philosophy from religion and the conceptualization of a mechanistic system of nature (Mardin 2000, 324). Nonetheless, the Ottoman author did not fail to strongly criticise the European approach to Islamic culture, something that we would today call Orientalism. On one side, Christian believers intentionally contrast and censure the investigation of Islam. Secular researchers on the other side, look into Islam with a prejudice believing that, as all religions in Europe, Islam also is ‘the heaviest chain enslaving human thought and the stronger impediment to the progress of knowledge’ (Namık Kemal 1962, 17). One of the possible reasons of Renan


Müdafaanamesi’s weakness is the fact that its author could not really distinguish the idealized image of Islam (and Christendom) from Muslim societies even though he had been an outspoken critic, not only of the Ottoman regime, but also of society in general. his actually constitutes a very good example of the attempt to de-historicize Islam and separate it from the various contexts in which it has lourished over the centuries. his de-contextualization of religion7 allows Namık Kemal—and all Islamist authors that will follow in his path—in theory to ignore the social, economic, and political milieus within which Muslim societies exist. It provides Islamists a powerful ideological tool that they can use to “purge” Muslim societies of the “impurities” and “accretions” that are the inevitable accompaniments of the historical process, but which they see as the reason for Muslim decline (Ayoob 2004, 1).

Conclusion Nevertheless, Namık Kemal’s work was yet another expression of the early Islamist intellectual’s urge to expose the cultural aggression coming from the West, making Renan Müdafaanamesi a relevant text, probably also because it marks the starting point of Islamism in the Turkish speaking provinces of the Empire. As evident also in al-Afghānī’s texts, Muslim intellectuals were now facing a new challenge from the West. Rather than representing the military, technological, and scientiic superiority over the Muslim world, Renan introduced a racial and religious discrimination. hus the gap between the two ‘civilizations’ could have not been illed by 7 Mainly Islam but it applies also to its image of Christianity.

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simply making administrative and political reforms. A total alienation from its culture, traditions, and values was needed maybe allowing white colonial authorities to shoulder the ‘burden’ of civilization. Islamism was the ideology reacting precisely to this new threat that urged a reinterpretation and reevaluation of its past and religion together with reforms based on Islam.

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